This sounds ridiculous to some, but before practising yoga, I often convince myself that I can’t do something before even trying, usually by justifying certain disadvantages I have. That includes both physical (anything to do with fitness, flexibility, etc.) and abstract (selling services such as writing and digital marketing).
There was always this internal critic that puts me down whenever I entertain a far-fetched thought about attempting something I’ve never done before. It ranged from something simple as touching my toes with straight legs to getting paid to write content on an ad-hoc basis.
I always thought that talent is the most important in life, because people who are successful are described as being “talented” or “gifted” in certain aspects of their life, especially early on in life.
I knew hard work would get people to places, but never believed that dedication is all it takes to get far in the long run. Of course, looking back at my old mindset from years ago is ridiculous to me now, but at that point in time, nothing convinced me otherwise.
I just turned 30 earlier this week, and while I wouldn’t consider that I’m impervious to setbacks, I’m definitely more hardy when the going gets tough. And I must say that if it were not for yoga, I wouldn’t have learned what I know right now and what I would in the future.
Before I sound like yoga can be life-changing for anyone, there are other activities that could change and shift our mindset for the better, but I found yoga to be that turning point for me.
I consider myself to be a very unfit boy growing up, failing most of my fitness tests and even borderline overweight when I was in my late-teens. Let’s just say I never had an affinity with physical activity when I was younger.
I always dreaded outdoor activities, except for the short periods of time when I was playing some table tennis indoors and occasional basketball.
To set the context, I had bronchitis and asthma when I was a kid. When I was about 10, I even fainted in the middle of the night after an asthma attack and was unconscious for a few days. Since then, I was convinced that my body wasn’t built for physical activities.
I never pushed myself beyond my comfort level, let alone limits. During my late-teens, when fitness class was no longer part of the curriculum, I put on a lot of weight, and was borderline overweight.
When I enlisted into National Service (NS), I was forced to lose weight and get physical, but I never pushed myself more than what was manageable. I didn’t pass my fitness test then, too. After NS, I did some physical activity just to keep in shape, because I liked staying slim.
It was only when I started practising yoga casually almost five years ago, that I began to love physical activity for the first time in my life. Yoga creates a non-judgmental space and time for myself. With each practice, I push myself a bit harder and I can always see improvements compared to the previous session.
Now I can place my palms flat on the floor with straight legs, let alone touching my toes. I’m slowly working towards front splits, something I always thought that only people who practised gymnastics when they were young could achieve.
I’ve never felt stronger in my life, totally debunking my misconception that one can only get strong in the gym with weights and machine, and not just using body weight. The funny part is, I’m so much older now.
I can’t really point my finger on how exactly yoga is different from table tennis, basketball, or any sport, but there’s this visceral connection between the body and mind. There’s no competition, it’s just an activity that’s dedicated to myself. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, and most yogis I know lean towards introversion.
During every practice, regardless whether I’m alone in the physical space in an online class or together with several other yogis in the studio, there’s always this reminder in my mind that my practice is unique.
My mind wanders a lot throughout the day, which is why yoga worked very well for me – it forced me to calm the chattering brain, even if it’s just for an hour or so.
Maybe it was how any practice was structured – there’s always a short meditative part before the sequences and ends with one last realignment with the intention set at the start. Those introspective moments refresh my mind and untangles any knots that could have been bothering me longer than they should.
We often spend too much time contemplating actions that have very low risk or impact on anything in our lives, really. We hold on to things that no longer serve us, living in the shadows of our past and others.
After each yoga practice, I would mentally visualise these negativity melt away from my body, reminding myself that what matters is the present and everything that lies ahead. Only then, taking action would come naturally – I don’t want to live in the past.
Because of this simple mindset shift and actually taking real action, I’m learning many new things often, and realising how wrong I was for many others. By my own standards, I’ve made so much more progress than I ever did in the 20-odd years of my life prior to the mindset change.
I’m not saying that just by doing yoga, anyone who has been plagued by their past can get back on their two feet immediately. I dare say, though, that yoga can and will be one of the reasons anyone can get out of a deep hole, especially if one doesn’t have severe physical impairments.